TAMPA, Fla. - Kurt Warner had about as remarkable a come-from-out-of-nowhere story as anyone in NFL history. James Harrison might not be far behind. How fitting, then, that the two should be involved in the longest play ever in the Super Bowl.
Warner - who never started an NFL game until age 28, then led the St. Louis Rams to their only Super Bowl title nine years ago - took the snap on first-and-goal from the Steelers' 1-yard line with 18 seconds to play in the first half. He had star receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin lined up to his left, and attempted to hit Boldin on a slant pattern.
But Harrison, who'd been released four times in his career before finally sticking with the Steelers, dropped back and intercepted the pass at the goal line. The 30-year-old linebacker then began a journey down the field that would prove to be the longest in Super Bowl history, an exhausting 100-yard touchdown return that gave Pittsburgh a 17-7 lead.
By the time he crashed into the end zone, time had expired in the half.
The Cardinals wound up overcoming a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter on Warner's remarkable comeback - before Ben Roethlisberger staged a brilliant comeback of his own to win it. But if Harrison hadn't made that play, who knows if the Steelers would have won their unprecedented sixth Super Bowl championship?
"We had them matched up, and it was kind of like, just give it time," Harrison said. "I just slid over to the right, and [Warner] threw it right into my hands and I took off. I was just trying to get to the other side and score seven, that's all."
Harrison knew it was either score the touchdown or go into the half with a 10-7 lead. There wouldn't be any time remaining even if he'd made it all the way to the 1. The play was reviewed to see whether Harrison had been tackled before getting into the end zone, but referee Terry McAulay upheld the TD call.
"It was very tiring, but it was well worth it," the 6-foot, 242-pound Harrison said. "I just wanted to help my team win. That was it. That was all I was thinking about."
The play and the game capped a spectacular season for Harrison. Released three times by the Steelers and once by the Ravens, he had a career-high 16 sacks during the regular season and was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been amazed by Harrison's emergence, even at such a late stage. He was undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, and it wasn't until training camp in 2004 that LeBeau saw potential greatness in the linebacker.
LeBeau, who had returned to the Steelers that year as defensive coordinator, told one of his assistants to keep an eye on Harrison. "Nobody could block him," LeBeau said.
Harrison has been equally adept at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, and he showed both strengths last night. Although he didn't get any sacks, he got consistent pressure on Warner and had two quarterback hurries. The interception return for a touchdown proved the early turning point.
"I was in the middle of the end zone when I saw him pick it, and I was just hoping we have the cavalry in front of him," linebacker James Farrior said. "[Coach] Mike Tomlin told us during the week during practice that when we get interceptions, to work on returning them."
Good thing for the Steelers Harrison was paying attention.
He could go all the way
Longest plays for touchdowns
in Super Bowl history:
100 - James Harrison, Pittsburgh, XLIII
- Interception return
99 - Desmond Howard, Green Bay, XXXI
- Kickoff return
81 - Antonio Freeman, Green Bay, XXXI
- Pass reception
75 - Willie Parker, Pittsburgh, XL